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Epilogue | John Tomasko Jr.

Goin' on a bear hunt? John Tomasko was your man

ZEPHYRHILLS — Each fall, bear-hunting guide John Tomasko bought the fish in 50-pound frozen blocks.

He hauled the blocks deep into the woods on Michigan's Upper Peninsula. This was his calling.

At the empty hunting lodge, he chopped the blocks down to 10 pounds each. The bears could feast freely — until the bow hunters arrived.

As a Marine marksman twice wounded by grenades, Mr. Tomasko survived three of World War II's bloodiest conflicts: Iwo Jima, Okinawa and Guadalcanal. Yet his proudest moment was an act of mercy.

The moment, Mr. Tomasko told the St. Petersburg Times in 2009, came in Okinawa, after he had captured a Japanese soldier.

"Step aside," a Marine told Tomasko. "We're going to kill that SOB."

"You're going to have to kill me," Mr. Tomasko replied. "He's my prisoner." 'That's probably the only thing I was involved in that was really significant,' " Mr. Tomasko later told his son.

Mr. Tomasko died Nov. 5, of lung cancer. He was 87 and had lived in Zephyrhills since the late 1980s.

He grew up in rural Adah, Pa., during a time when country boys learned to supplement meals with whatever they could shoot. He favored the longbow and could make his own arrows. He could hit the center of a pie tin from 30 yards. Good enough to bring down a black bear.

He married Lottie Ehmke after the war and started a family in Ann Arbor, Mich. He got a job as an instrument clerk at the University of Michigan School of Dentistry. And started a break-even business as a hunting guide.

At first the hunters slept in tents. Then the tents became cabins. Then the cabins sprouted showers and indoor plumbing.

"As the group got older, they wanted more domestic facilities," Mr. Tomasko's son said.

One labor could not be lessened — that of lugging a bear carcass of up to 400 pounds over mountain trails. Two men could do it, using a wheeled stretcher Mr. Tomasko designed.

"Tastes just like beef," said Rosemary Tomasko, who had worked the switchboard at the dental school. They married in 1966, the second time for each. She cooked wild game stew and the venison her husband brought home.

One bear made a particularly lasting impression — as a rug, complete with huge head and snarling, yellow teeth.

"It was a big black bear," said Rosemary, 82. "I used to keep it under the grand piano. One day I was dusting there and I got my foot caught in his mouth."

The rug has since disappeared, she said. "I can't really tell you what happened to it."

Mr. Tomasko also painted wildlife. His oil paintings of bear and deer and fall leaves hung all over the house.

He also was a scoutmaster.

A couple of times, somebody ticked off the wrong bear. When Mr. Tomasko and a client came upon a mother bear and her cubs, Mr. Tomasko climbed a tree.

"The other guy kept running, and the bear chased him," his son said. "Then the bear went back to her cubs."

Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or ameacham@sptimes.com.

.Biography

John Tomasko Jr.

Born: Oct. 3, 1923.

Died: Nov. 5, 2010.

Survivors: Wife Rosemary; son John; daughters Elizabeth Tomasko, Alice Drake and Wendy Dart.

Goin' on a bear hunt? John Tomasko was your man 11/18/10 [Last modified: Thursday, November 18, 2010 8:13pm]
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